Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Stunning new ocean discoveries

Craig Venter's excellent adventure has now produced results, and it's looking like a modern version of Charles Darwin's 19th century voyage aboard the HMS Beagle.

Using the new lens of genomics, the team's fabulous finds including doubling the number of known genes, along with mind-blowing potential for new energy sources and drugs. This is like inventing a new microscope and finding--surprise--lots of amazing new stuff we couldn't see before.

Overturning the view of open oceans as sterile and uninteresting, the study found a vast diversity of new bacteria and other microbes. The world of the wet, salty, and very small turns out to be where the action is in our oceans.

Perhaps most exciting, said study leader J. Craig Venter, is that the rate of discovery of new genes and proteins was as great at the end of the voyage as it was at the start, suggesting that humanity is nowhere close to closing the logbooks on global biodiversity.

"Instead of being at the end of discovery, it means we're in the earliest stages," said Venter, chairman of the J. Craig Venter Institute, a nonprofit gene research center.

My mind is boggled, my jaw has dropped and I've got a big bruise from being struck by awe. New ways of looking almost always produce new things found, but this is unbelievable.

So what do you see in the blue ocean pictured above? If you look right, you can see amazing intricate ecosystems of microbes with striking adaptations to the diverse microhabitats present. No longer is it just a clear blue ocean.

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